Transport for London has given a slap in the face to upwards of 1.7m republican Londoners, and to others who visit London or fund its transport, by renaming Crossrail as the Elizabeth Line. The Elizabeth in question is Elizabeth Windsor, Britain’s feudal head of state.
According to news media reports Conservative mayor Boris Johnson was behind the change of name. And there is nothing new in the contempt that monarchists show towards the right of republicans in the UK to be treated by public bodies with equal regard.
But responses to the name change often did not show respect for the “queen” who has lived lavishly her entire life on the hard work of British citizens.
The new railway line was quickly nicknamed the Lizzie Line. One tweeter suggested that it had been called the Elizabeth Line because “it costs the taxpayer a lot and doesn’t really do anything useful”.
That was unfair. Crossrail will be useful even if it costs a lot more than anticipated. But Windsor and her clan cost the people of Britain a fortune every year while giving back nothing of value.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin absurdly defended the new name saying it was “appropriate given her majesty’s long association with UK transport”. That could hardly have convinced the most hard-core monarchist. In truth Windsor’s “long association with UK transport” is not with public transport at all. She once went on a Tube train for the official opening of the Victoria line, that’s all.
If Windsor and her clan used public transport the bill they present to the people for getting around what they like to call their realm and beyond would not have been £5.1m in 2014-15. The only train she is very familiar with is a nine-carriage private train funded by taxpayers to the tune of £900,000 a year. A single private train journey by Windsor’s son has cost over £25,000 in public funds.
Even the monarchist Financial Times seemed unimpressed. It published a piece by author Andrew Martin that referred to “the monarchical mush of railway nomenclature”. He pointed out that Ms. Windsor’s single journey on public transport was one more than any other British monarch had made. But that was hardly enough to warrant naming the line after her, he wrote.
Martin noted that in the period between the first and second world wars the private railway companies had given their trains royal names as they “sought the appearance of legitimacy and permanence” in the fierce competition between companies.
He also suggested that the new name might be linked to mayor Johnson’s populism and declared support for Britain leaving the EU. Perhaps he also is seeking “the appearance of legitimacy and permanence”.
If so that might serve as confirmation that just as monarchy is a divisive force in this country, so it is one that is open to use for partisan political ends.